Asteroids orbit the sun and are typically very large whereas meteors are smaller. Before meteors enter the atmosphere, they are referred to as meteoroids.
When we hear these terms, most of us probably only think of big space rock. However, there is certainly a difference between the two.
What is a meteor?
Meteors, also known as shooting stars, are significantly smaller than asteroids. Most meteors visibly burn up in the atmosphere without ever reaching the ground. A great many meteors fall through the atmosphere each day, and even those that do reach the ground are too small to have a noticeable effect.
What is an asteroid?
Asteroids are much larger, anywhere from the size of a boulder (a few metres in diameter) to about the size of a small dwarf planet (a few hundred metres in diameter). Fortunately, asteroids almost never collide with Earth since they’re in stable orbits around the sun. Most reside in the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.
Most asteroids are less than the size of a car, but the largest asteroid in the solar system is Ceres (also classified as a dwarf planet) with a diameter of 946km, almost half that of Pluto.
What about meteorites and meteroids?
Meteorites are the remnants of meteors that have survived their fiery descent through our atmosphere.
If any part of a meteoroid survives the fall through the atmosphere and lands on Earth, it is called a meteorite. Although the vast majority of meteorites are very small, their size can range from about a fraction of a gram (the size of a pebble) to 100kg (220lb) or more…
Meteoroids, on the other hand, are the precursors to meteors. They are meteor-sized rocks that are orbitting the sun and/or flying through space. Meteoroids that encounter the Earth’s atmosphere become meteors.
As asteroids smash into each other, they produce crumbly debris—meteoroids. The force of the asteroid collision can throw the meteoroid debris—and sometimes the asteroids themselves—out of their regular orbit. This can put the meteoroids on a collision course with a planet or moon.
If you’re interested in seeing meteors, find a dark, secluded spot at night during a meteor shower. The Perseid meteor shower peaks at around mid-August every year and the Leonid meteor shower typically peaks in mid-November.